Chris Khadan is Illumio's VP of Customer Success, leading the charge in ensuring customers, which include nine of the largest 15 financial institutions in the U.S., and four of the top seven global Software-as-a-Service companies, have the best possible experience.
I sat down with Chris to discuss customer success, from what it means and who's involved to the six dimensions to succeed (like the six steps of the scientific method, Chris has customer success down to a science – and an art of what's possible).
DEFINE YOUR PHILOSOPHY AND APPROACH TO CUSTOMER SUCCESS
Customer success (widely recognized as CS) is still a young and developing concept across the industry. As a result, it may look and feel different to customers based on the vendor with whom they’re engaged. That experience through those vendors ranges: some may do nothing related to CS, others may have integrated it with an existing function, while others may have started to form the concept of CS through a minimal investment approach.
When I started in customer success four years ago, I vividly remember one of my very first customer meetings where I introduced myself with a Customer Success title. The client's response was, "That sounds like a great title, I want one ... but what does it mean?"
In order to understand what customer success means, you first have to understand what it isn’t. Customer success:
- is not Sales
- is not Professional Services
- is not Support
Customer success is a function that solely exists to broker a relationship with customers and our internal organization, and help drive healthy adoption, value, and continuous partnership.
Without the right dedication, effort, and support from both sides – customer and vendor – the ability to drive value from the investment becomes fairly difficult, if not impossible.
HOW DOES ILLUMIO DEFINE CUSTOMER SUCCESS?
We define customer success as a relentless pursuit to help our customers understand the best ways to adopt and use our product to achieve the greatest amount of value from their investment.
In most cases, our customers buy our software to solve a specific business problem or need. We make it our responsibility to deliver upon that initial expectation. However, what we do is new to most of our customers and the industry at large.
As industry thought-leaders and category creators for adaptive segmentation, we know the full breadth and capabilities of our platform, the problems it is purpose-built to solve, and the current industry threat profile. That puts us squarely in an accountable position to continuously enhance our customer experience and value by highlighting additional areas customers should focus the technology to generate the maximum benefits.
In order to achieve success, we recommend that our customers focus on the following six dimensions:
- Sponsorship: Ensure there is appropriate sponsorship in place. Someone who will own and define the vision and strategy (roadmap) for your organization. But most importantly, someone that will marshall the execution of that vision and strategy across the organization.
- Roadmap: Plan and construct a clearly defined strategy that illustrates the adoption path for Illumio within your organization. Share this vision and strategy with others to evangelise the effort, garner support, and enhance the value pursuit.
- Governance: Ensure there's dedication to the initiative by aligning the right resources to implement, support, and grow the practice within your organization. Right-size this team based on the size of your operations and define a robust change management structure that they will own and continue to evolve.
- Usage: Ensure that the investment made in Illumio is being capatilized across your environment. Remove roadblocks that prevent penetration into critical areas and move forward with a sense of urgency to meet the roadmap requirements.
- Maturity: Continously improve by both adopting new capabilities introduced by Illumio or dictated by industry recommendation
- Value: Capture, celebrate, and communicate wins across the organization. There's no better tool for socialization and cross-functional support than this. Utilize wins as a justification to allocate necessary resources and funding to additional initiatives, innovations, and run the business improvements.
HOW DO YOU UNCOVER A CUSTOMER'S DESIRED OUTCOME?
When we first engage a customer we ask three basic questions:
- Why did you buy Illumio?
- What do you hope to achieve?
- How would you measure success?
With these questions, we're able to uncover the necessary elements to understand a customer’s desired outcomes and construct a Customer Success Plan for them – which includes a fairly detailed roadmap to drive success.
In order to kick things off successfully, gain momentum quickly, and generate a win early, our initial focus tends to shift to something I call “First Desired Outcome” (FDO). A FDO could be:
- An initiative that must be achieved first before we can do anything else (obligation).
- A simple starting point that will deliver a win, but at the same time educate the organization on "what this thing is."
- A major challenge that, if resolved, will ensure that traction into subsequent areas and the pursuit of further outcomes will be well supported.
We like to educate customers very early on what to expect. To achieve this, we have this very prescriptive Customer Journey that we take all customers through. It’s tailored to ensure they are getting the best experience possible, the relationship is producing the necessary value they expected, and our velocity from one outcome to another is measurable and visible. That way, if we need to course-correct, it becomes a simple exercise.
WHAT'S THE SECRET TO ENSURING A CUSTOMER'S VOICE IS HEARD?
Every vendor would like to say they listen to every single customer equally, but in reality we know that’s likely not happening, especially as vendor organizations grow and mature.
It is important not to ignore any customer and to make sure that they are consistently getting what they intended to achieve with your organization. This can be simply accomplished through constant engagement.
However, I think there's a better way: segmenting appropriately and engaging your customer network – a collection of customers that share the same interest, are tackling the same problems, or desire the same outcomes.
Engagement at the network level gives our customers a stronger voice to collaborate, influence the product roadmap, and support vendor growth and evolution.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR TEAM
My team is made up of many talented individuals, primarily known as Customer Success Advisors or Customer Success Managers, who are solely focused on making our customers wildly successfully with their adoption, goal achievement, usage, and evolution of Illumio within their organization.
We have varied backgrounds that span many areas – infrastructure and operations, software, hardware, application development, and security, to name a few. This helps significantly in applying real-world experience to help our customers understand the best way to use Illumio’s technology to meet their business challenges or outcomes while considering the areas of applicability.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR CUSTOMER SUCCESS AT ILLUMIO?
What we do at Illumio is game-changing within the cybersecurity industry and the way we do it is unique. For this reason, we are currently in a mode of educating the industry about the value and applicability of adaptive segmentation.
That approach will continue and will be a constant focus for us. However, I see the longer term benefit of Illumio’s customer success team as one that will partner with our customers to understand new areas of interest, valid use cases, and industry trends that are directly affecting them that can be incorporated into the features and capabilities we provide.
We want to be the team that customers are constantly engaged with to enhance their experience throughout their lifecycle and commitment to Illumio.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE SOURCES FOR TECHNOLOGY INFORMATION TRENDS?
I stay connected through the following sources:
- CIO Journal from The Wall Street Journal
- Ars Technica
- Following Chuck Brooks from ITSP Magazine